Recently, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and the members of the Suffolk County Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel, formally known as the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, announced the release of their 2021 final report, which includes a detailed outline of the panel’s actions and findings of the past year, beneficial Suffolk County resources and programs, links to other reports pertaining to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic, and goals for the new year. The Suffolk County Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel was created via resolution 704-2017, Establishing a Permanent Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker, in an effort to address the rising number of opioid overdose related deaths in Suffolk County. As outlined by the resolution, the panel meets on a quarterly basis, conducts two public hearings and compiles a final report that is posted on the Suffolk County Legislature’s website.
“This year, the CDC reported that in the United States, there were over 100,000 overdose related deaths and over 95,000 alcohol related deaths over a 12-month period,” said Legislator Anker. “During 2020, we saw a rise in overdose deaths in our own county for the first time since 2017. Providers and advocates have shared that they have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, and substance use amongst the residents they serve as a result of the uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Suffolk County’s Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel has worked collaboratively, combing their experience, resources and understanding to help address the growing opioid addiction epidemic during this unprecedented time. It is our hope that this final report detailing the work of the county and its partners will serve as a reference for those seeking resources and provide a foundation for other municipalities to continue their work in battling the epidemic as well.”
The goal of the panel is to utilize collective knowledge and expertise to provide ongoing guidance and input to the county with respect to combating the substance use and addiction epidemic through preventative education, enhancement of law enforcement efforts, and aiding in the treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by substance use disorders. The panel includes, elected officials, governmental departments, school representatives, medical professionals, mental health counselors, advocates and non-profit organizations, who work in collaboration to address the many substance use concerns that affect Suffolk County residents.
“I commend Suffolk County’s Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel members who have channeled their personal and professional experience to develop new, effective and innovative ways to combat the opioid and substance use epidemic in our county,” said Legislator Anker. “Whether it was through advocating for additional funding, increasing access to naloxone kits and training, creating Suffolk County’s resource website, advocating for increased prescriber education and standardized emergency room protocols, or developing programs that expanded education, treatment and substance use prevention, these important initiatives have helped provide much needed support and access to those struggling with opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. Despite these advancements and progress, addiction is an on-going issue that needs to be addressed continually on all fronts.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to create increased challenges for all governmental and community agencies throughout our county including overwhelmed hospitals fighting this pandemic on the frontline, addiction rates increasing with limited resources and economic uncertainty due to business disruption. Relapse has increased partly due to the interruption of in-person counseling, and limited teleconferencing access for those in need of treatment. Mental health related service providers from across the county have experienced firsthand the increased number of those seeking support as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a traumatic strain on not only residents struggling with addiction, but all government departments, hospitals and not-for-profit support organizations that provide assistance.
Since the establishment of the panel in 2017, Suffolk County has made great progress in combating the opioid epidemic through education, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, law enforcement, legislation and legal action. During the past year the panel advocated for the creation a more user friendly and comprehensive website for addiction and mental health resources in Suffolk County. The website, www.suffolkstopaddiction.org, was launched this year and will act as a comprehensive resource providing easy access to information regarding treatment options, where to go in an emergency and other pertinent information.
Additionally, the panel also supported resolutions that pertain to the way funds will be disbursed from the settlement agreements reached in lawsuits, which prioritizes utilizing the funds to expand and support new and existing programs and organizations who provide education, prevention and/or treatment services related to combating the rise in substance use disorders and addiction, which generated the litigation. The panel also authored a letter to former Governor Andrew Cuomo to request that any settlement money that was awarded to New York State be used for addiction combative efforts, and not be used for general funding.
Due to the panel’s concern regarding addiction related to prescribed medication, the panel authored a letter to former Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health Howard Zuker requesting additional training and education in medical schools in the area of pain management, that will further provide a better understanding of the effects of pain management medications and how to safely prescribe them while monitoring for warning signs of addiction in their patients.
Lastly, after much discussion, the name of the Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel was officially changed to the Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel through resolution 102-2021. The updated name reflects the panel’s desire to discuss and address all addictive substances, as well as the panel’s understanding that addiction and mental health are co-occurring disorders.
Below are recommended priorities of the panel for the upcoming year:
- Prioritize childhood trauma intervention;
- Support Addiction Prevention Awareness Campaigns;
- Monitor the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on overdose rates;
- Increase prescriber education;
- Continue to advocate for the disbursement of settlement funds to education, prevention and treatment programs;
- Monitor the growing vaping epidemic;
- Support early education initiatives;
- Continue to monitor Marijuana Legislation and its effects;
- Commence meetings of the Youth Addiction Panel
- Monitor continuing effects of NYS Bail Reform and request a study of policy change outcomes;
- Support education to reduce the stigma of addiction and mental health;
- Develop and organize a campaign to encourage residents to exchange their expired naloxone kits for new kits; an
- Continue to advocate for increased naloxone availability accessible on public transportation.
The 2021 final report of the Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel features comprehensive updates regarding the work of the panel members throughout the year current available data collected and compiled from the DASH (Diagnostic, Assessment and Stabilization Hub) Center, LICADD’s 24/hour hotline (631-979-1700), Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office, available Suffolk County programs and resources, including the 2021 Suffolk County Directory of Behavioral Health Services, current litigation updates, and recommendations from the panel. The report is available to view on the Suffolk County Legislature’s website: https://www.scnylegislature.us/1057/Heroin-and-Opiate-Epidemic-Advisory-Pane. For more information please contact Legislator Anker’s office at (631) 854-1600.